The first book in the fantasy series Divine Cities.

Publication year: 2014
Format: print
Page count: 452
Publisher: Broadway Books

Bulikov and Saypur: two cities which inhabitants hate each other with passion but which are linked by the past, present, and mostly likely by the future as well.

Bulikov was, and still is, the center city of the Continent, a place where six gods lived and influenced the lives of every human there. Once, they warred against each other but then they suddenly formed a peace and started to expand from the Continent. They conquered and enslaved Saypur. Saypur is rich in minerals and other natural wealth and the Continentals forced the Saypuris to work. The city of Bulikov was the prosperous center of the world.

But 75 years ago the balance of power changed dramatically: a heroic figure rose amongst the Saypuri and invented technology which killed the gods. Because the gods had literally changed reality in the Continent, it suffered greatly when “normal” reality returned. Now, Saypur rules and the Continent is poor, ignorant, and mostly illiterate as well. Also, the Saypuri laws make it illegal for the Continentals to know their own history, especially concerning the gods, and to evoke the gods in any way. So, the Saypuri and the Continentals continue to hate each other. Bulikov is now partly a ruin and filled with desperate, poor people.

Shara Thivani from Saypur arrives to Bulikov to find out who has murdered her dear and respected friend Dr. Efrem Pangyui. Pangyui was a historian passionately interested in the Continent and especially in the gods. Shara suspects at first that the locals have killed him but the further she digs the more she finds unexpected clues. She’s a trusted operative (meaning: spy) for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which deals with Continental matters, especially with the remnants the gods have left behind: items, even creatures which shouldn’t exist. She is also something of a historian, like Pangyui but she has to be loyal to Saypur and not to truth or facts. Yet, it seems that even the minister of Foreign Affairs, who is Shara’s aunt, doesn’t trust her anymore.

Lots of people have praised this book and I wasn’t disappointed. The world-building is exquisite and integral to the characters and the plot. Shara is a great character and so is her “secretary” the Northern barbarian Sigrud. He’s a one-eyed giant of few words but very decisive action. I also thoroughly enjoyed the Bulikov governor Turyin Mulaghesh, who was a colonel before she was sent to exile in Bulikov where she has to enforce policies she doesn’t care for. Granted, the characters aren’t very complex but I liked them.

The story isn’t set in a typical fantasy landscape of horses and chosen ones, but in a more modern city where cars and firearms are typical, at least for the wealthier people, and photography is the new hot thing. Yet, some magic still works, too.

Excellent book and I’ll be diving into the sequel shortly.